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Louisiana Raises Drinking Age, But Will Party Really End?

August 28, 1995

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ For 18-year-old Ali Berger, it’s last call.

Until last week, Ms. Berger could walk into most any bar or liquor store in New Orleans and order whatever she wanted. She made no effort to conceal her age, nor did she have to.

But the party has ended for teen-age drinkers like her _ the Louisiana Legislature closed a legal loophole that made it easy for 18-to-20-year-olds to buy liquor.

Since 1985 _ when Louisiana was becoming the last state in the nation to raise the drinking age to 21 _ it has been illegal for anyone aged 18 to 20 to buy or drink liquor, but it was legal to sell it to them.

Now retailers face fines and/or jail time if they sell alcohol to minors.

Not everyone thinks the new law, which went into effect last week, will stop the revelry.

``We’re kind of known here for our partying,″ said Kendra Jackson, 18, who predicted the new law would be strictly enforced at first, then loosen as bar owners began missing their younger customers.

``If they really enforce it, everybody’s going to go out of business,″ she said, leisurely shooting pool in a bar a few days before the law went into effect.

Opponents for years have called the drinking-age loophole a disgrace, but legislative committees repeatedly killed challenges to it _ until this month.

``It’s not a `rights’ situation with us,″ said Warren Melancon, executive director of Louisiana Mothers Against Drunk Driving. ``It’s a body count.″

The new law contains loopholes of its own. It allows those under 21 to enter bars and lets them drink if they are with a parent or guardian, if they are attending a religious celebration or a non-profit event.

From drive-thru daiquiri windows and college bars that offer ``study group specials,″ to the touristy neon strip of Bourbon Street, barkeeps worried that the law could water down New Orleans’ freewheeling reputation.

It’s already changing the atmosphere _ some say for the better _ at some clubs.

At Tipitina’s, manager Don Dovie says they are going to start booking bands ``that attract older people.″ At Razzoo’s on Bourbon Street, the karaoke that appealed to their under-25 clientele is being displaced with two player pianos.

``It’ll be nice to come in here and not be swarmed by teen-agers,″ says French Quarter bar regular Derek Hanra, 33.

They might be back _ opposition to the law has landed the issue before the state Supreme Court, which will decide whether the new law is constitutional.

A state judge declared it unconstitutional Aug. 24, but hours later the state Supreme Court put that ruling on hold. For now, at least, both buyer and seller are liable in Louisiana.

But Ms. Berger doesn’t expect her lifestyle to change at all.

``We drank when we were 16, 17,″ she said. ``I have enough friends who are 21; I can borrow their IDs.″